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“Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)
“For whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you in return.” Luke 6:38 (NEB)
In evangelical circles, it’s common to hear someone say they have been “given” a scripture citation that resonates with a situation or personal challenge. It’s supposed to be the Holy Spirit tapping you on the shoulder with a gentle “Excuse me, but remember that verse in John’s gospel you learned in VBS in 1974? Take another look at it. You may find it of particular interest today.”
So, maybe it isn’t strange that these two verses bobbed up, separately, in my reading on the very day I learned that my high school was set to undergo a ritual cleansing to expiate the sins of its founders.
Yes, friends, I am a graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s the official name. We just called it “Lee.”
The school board has decided to rename the three largest high schools. Along with Lee, there is Sidney Lanier High School and Jefferson Davis High School.
Well, you can see the problem. Those gol-darned Confederates.
Lanier was founded around 1910, and named for an obscure Georgia poet you can be forgiven for not knowing. I have no idea why. I guess he may have passed through the city. Unfortunately for posterity, he served, again obscurely, in the CSA army.
The football team was the Poets. Really. That nickname didn’t get a payoff until its cross-town rival, Lee, was built in the mid-1950s. We were the Generals, and this gridiron feud was serious business through the ‘60s. Every season was capped with the Lee-Lanier game, which invariably featured a banner with the strange device, “The poet’s pen is mightier than the general’s sword.”
In 1970, Jeff Davis H.S. was built. Now, by that time there really was no excuse for choosing that name. But, while Davis was a Mississippian, at least he did live in Montgomery, the Confederacy’s first capital, briefly.
Now all three schools are set to get new names (to be determined later). It’s an appropriate move (although I might spare poor Sidney). Montgomery’s public schools have undergone re-segregation and are overwhelmingly black. Those Civil War “heroes” don’t look so heroic to the current students, or, indeed, most of the country.
If by renaming a few schools we can put to rest the bloody divisions caused by the sins of our great-grandfathers, then it’s well worth it. There’s a faint hope that our removing them from pedestals, literal and figurative, can put the blame where it belongs. Maybe we, their chagrined descendants, won’t have to bear the punishment for them.
But I fear our times are not noted for letting “each die for their own sin.” Collective and hereditary guilt seems to be the order of the day.
Jesus’ words as quoted by St. Luke should serve as a warning to zealots of every stripe. If they have ears to hear.Published in